Campaigns - Woodland Park Zoo

Progressive city, antiquated elephant exhibit
The Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington, holds three female elephants in an antiquated exhibit: two female Asian elephants, Chai and Bamboo, and one African elephant, Watoto. A fourth female elephant, Sri, was transferred to the St. Louis Zoo in 2002. A fifth elephant, Chai’s daughter Hansa, died in 2007 of the deadly Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV).


Seattle is a progressive city, but its zoo's elephant exhibit is anything but. The tiny space afforded to the elephants falls far short of meeting the needs of Earth's largest land mammals. This lack of space and forced confinement indoors – for 17 hours a day, seven days a week, seven months a year – has taken a toll on the elephants at Woodland Park Zoo. They suffer from a variety of captivity-related ills, including early infertility, painful foot disease and arthritis, aggression and abnormal repetitive behaviors such as swaying and rocking. Add to that the social isolation of Watoto, the lone African elephant, who cannot interact with others of her own kind.

elephantWorking with Seattle-based Friends of the Woodland Park Zoo Elephants (FOWPZE), a campaign of Northwest Animal Rights Network (NARN), IDA has long tracked the tragic lives of these elephants and the abuses they have suffered.

Woodland Park Zoo has appeared on IDA’s list of the Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants three times, and once as a Dishonorable Mention.


Playing Russian Roulette with elephant lives
elephantsWhen the deadly elephant herpes virus struck Woodland Park Zoo and claimed its first victim there - six year old Hansa - no one should have been surprised. The zoo had long engaged in practices known to place Asian elephants at high risk for this nearly always fatal disease. It has kept Asian and African elephants together, a known risk, and it has transferred elephants into and out of Seattle to other zoos for breeding purposes.(Hansa's mother Chai was shipped to Dickerson Park Zoo in Missouri, an elephant herpes virus hotspot, where she conceived Hansa.)

What was surprising, but not unexpected given zoos' zeal to produce baby elephants, was the zoo's decision to continue breeding Chai, despite the high risk that any new calf produced will also die from the herpes virus, which causes massive internal hemorrhaging and a excruciatingly painful death.

Lily Tomlin speaks up for Seattle elephants
lily tomlinIn April 2009, acclaimed actor, producer, writer and comedienne Lily Tomlin, joined Friends of the Woodland Park Zoo Elephants and IDA at a press conference, calling for the release Chai, Bamboo and Watoto to a sanctuary, and criticizing the small, outdated display in which the elephants are held.

“I believe if the public is informed here in this city they will raise an outcry to have these elephants sent to the sanctuary in Tennessee and stop this exhibiting of elephants," said Tomlin. "Several major zoos around the country have already closed their elephant exhibits because they know they do not work, and they create nothing but suffering for these creatures.”

The zoo’s response was the usual claim that the elephants are healthy. However, their own medical records show otherwise.

Elephant bios

Chai (b. 1979, wild-caught) has been subjected to numerous invasive procedures associated with artificial insemination (AI). In 1998, after enduring six years of AI attempts, the Woodland Park Zoo shipped her off to be bred at Dickerson Park Zoo in Missouri, where she was beaten. The Zoo paid a $5,000 fine to settle the charges.

Before Chai returned to Seattle, she was bred with the bull Onyx and later gave birth to Hansa, who died of EEHV. Of 13 calves conceived at the Dickerson Park Zoo, five of the calves were infected with EEHV; all but one died from the infection. Zoo documents show that Woodland Park Zoo was aware at the time that EEHV was a concern at Dickerson Park Zoo.

After Hansa’s death, the Zoo continued its AI attempts on Chai, despite the high risk that another elephant born at Woodland Park Zoo could also become infected and die. Experts have stated that Hansa contracted the virus from an elephant at the Zoo. Chai suffered a miscarriage in 2008.

Veterinary records show Chai suffers from foot disorders.

Hansa (b. 2000 at Woodland Park Zoo, died 2007) was allegedly struck with a bullhook by a zookeeper when she was less than two years old. The reason: she was eating dirt.

The virus that killed Hansa has accounted for 20% of Asian elephant deaths in North America in the past 25 years and has killed about 90 percent of the elephants infected. The disease mainly strikes elephants under age seven, and causes massive internal hemorrhaging.

Sri (b. 1980, wild-caught) was sent to St. Louis Zoo for breeding. She became pregnant, but in November 2005 her full-term calf died in utero. She never expelled the dead baby. Prior to her expected due date, Sri was imprisoned in a tiny room that she circled, with little room to move.

Watoto (b. 1969, wild-caught) has suffered repeated bouts of gastrointestinal problems. She also suffers from arthritis. She displays stereotypic behavior, a sign of boredom and frustration.

In 2008, Watoto became ill and was kept out of public view. The Zoo claims that she tested positive for the same virus that killed Hansa.

Bamboo (b. 1966, wild-caught) was branded an aggressive elephant following the birth of Hansa. She was transferred in 2005 to the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Washington, which specializes in handling “difficult” elephants, after spending virtually her entire life at the Woodland Park Zoo. While at Tacoma, Bamboo was dangerously overweight and spent most of her time alone, pacing in a circle, shaking her head back and forth. After the zoo was unable to integrate her with the other elephants, Bamboo was returned to the Woodland Park Zoo in 2006.

Bamboo has suffered foot problems and continues to display stereotypic behavior.

What you can do
seattle Please write to the Woodland Park Zoo and to the City of Seattle and urge them to send Bamboo, Chai and Watoto to a sanctuary now. With its small, outdated elephant exhibit and a cold, wet climate that keeps the elephants indoors for prolonged periods, the zoo just can’t provide the conditions that elephants need to live long and healthy lives.


Deborah Jensen
Woodland Park Zoo
601 N. 59th St.
Seattle, WA  98103 
Phone: 206-548-2599
Fax: 206-548-1536

City of Seattle:
Richard Conlin, Council President
Seattle City Council
Phone: 206-684-8805

Tim Burgess
Phone: 206-684-8806

Sally J. Clark
Phone: 206-684-8802

Jan Drago
Phone: 206-684-8801

Jean Godden
Phone: 206-684-8807

Bruce Harrell
Phone: 206-684-8804

Nick Licata
Phone: 206-684-8803

Richard J. McIver
Phone: 206-684-8800

Tom Rasmussen
Phone: 206-684-8808